The new need for scarcity, and why the next big leap in entertainment has not happened yet
Photo: Adrian Korte
AI has dominated discourse in the entertainment industry and beyond for most of this year. As a tool it poses opportunities for some and threats for others. As a dynamic shift it will usher in a content boom that will make the previous few years of streaming dilution and attention saturation seem small by comparison. More is not always more: even before AI, issues of time available to audiences, cut-through possible for creators, and revenue gains for commissioners have been exacerbated by the sheer amount of content available and the number of places to access it. These challenges remain, and they are not going away anytime soon.
Earlier this year, MIDiA published a report covering the need to reintroduce scarcity; in the sheer volume of entertainment output we have seen explode over the last few years, the individual value of any single song, creator, or even franchise has become increasingly diluted. Efforts to combat this have meant leaning more into fandom, both niche and mainstream; building IP ecosystems that encompass games, video, and music; and building out already-existing franchises (from Marvel and Star Wars to Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings) or producing endless sequels as safe bets to draw audiences, and hopefully grow their sentimental affinity. Even this has its downsides for entertainment companies, however. As franchises grow bigger, for example, the associated costs are likely to rise, which can pose problems of ROI in an increasingly streaming subscription-dominated environment. Juggling too many of these long term in the relentless content competition can cause cost issues down the line – which prompts a need for artificial scarcity, such as how Netflix tends to cut shows after three seasons.
AI means more content saturating platforms, more creators vying for attention, and more platforms competing for audience spend. More means increasingly less for everyone involved – even audiences, whose affinity for any one thing can be quickly lost in the rapid-fire digital competition for their next second of attention.
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In anything, there are only so many truly influential innovations (songs, stories, technologies) that truly shape the future, and a host of similar things made by followers of the trend. It is becoming almost impossible to sift through the clutter to find which is which, for industry as well as for audience members. What is needed by both, and what awaits us on the other side of this AI hype-cycle content boom is the reintroduction of scarcity. There is an emerging opportunity for cultivating and curating this culturally relevant output – and it will not look like it has in the past, with magazine editorial recommendations or film reviews. Given the prominence of social platforms and the increasingly engaged ways of consumption available to audiences, it is not unlikely that this curation will happen at an audience-centric level role; see the likes of Rotten Tomatoes or Letterbox for video.
The existential question is, ultimately, whether entertainment is truly becoming fundamentally decentralised – or if what we are witnessing now is but the stirring up of the pot in which all the ingredients are floating madly about in the current, and when things settle, new players will come to the fore. These players will be those that offer exactly what is missing now, be it through curation, discerning commissioning, or even simply audience voting: scarcity to add value where it matters, instead of the relentless push for “more” – AI-driven or otherwise.